Towards an understanding of induced-charge electrokinetics at large applied voltages in concentrated solutions

Research paper by Martin Z. Bazant, Mustafa Sabri Kilic, Brian D. Storey, Armand Ajdari

Indexed on: 29 Sep '09Published on: 29 Sep '09Published in: Physics - Fluid Dynamics


The venerable theory of electrokinetic phenomena rests on the hypothesis of a dilute solution of point-like ions near a weakly charged surface, whose potential relative to the bulk is of order the thermal voltage ($kT/e \approx 25$ mV at room temperature). In nonlinear electrokinetic phenomena, such as AC or induced-charge electro-osmosis (ACEO, ICEO) and induced-charge electrophoresis (ICEP), several Volts $\approx 100 kT/e$ are applied to polarizable surfaces in microscopic geometries, and the resulting electric fields and induced surface charges are large enough to violate the assumptions of the classical theory. In this article, we review the literature, highlight discrepancies between theory and experiment, introduce possible modifications of the theory, and analyze their consequences. We argue that, in response to a large applied voltage, the "compact layer" and "shear plane" effectively advance into the liquid, due to the crowding of counter-ions. Using simple continuum models, we predict two general trends, each enhanced by dielectric response: (i) ionic crowding against a blocking surface expands the diffuse double layer and thus decreases its differential capacitance, and (ii) a charge-induced viscosity increase near the surface reduces the electro-osmotic mobility. The first effect is able to predict high-frequency flow reversal in ACEO pumps, while the second may explain the decay of ICEO flow with increasing salt concentration. Through examples, such as ICEP of an uncharged metal sphere in an asymmetric electrolyte, we show that ICEO flows are ion-specific. Similar issues arise in nanofluidics (due to confinement) and ionic liquids (due to the lack of solvent), so the paper concludes with a general framework of modified electrokinetic equations for finite-sized ions.